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Theresa May’s Faustian pact with Brexiters damages UK

by Hugo Dixon | 08.10.2016

Theresa May didn’t have to become prime minister. She took the job because she was ambitious. This involved a Faustian pact with the Tory hardliners to get into Downing Street – deliver Brexit even though she herself campaigned for Remain, albeit in a lukewarm manner. Nobody should feel sympathy as her government flails around, damaging our country in the process.

Nobody should feel sympathy when the Foreign Office gets into a spat with the London School of Economics over whether it said it would only take Brexit advice from UK passport holders. The Foreign Office later claimed it was a misunderstanding and that it would “continue to take advice from the best and brightest minds, regardless of nationality”.

Was there really a misunderstanding? The government’s anti-foreigner rhetoric means it is hard to give it the benefit of the doubt. This, after all, was the week when cabinet ministers – who like May had backed Remain – promised the Conservative Party to make the NHS “self sufficient” in doctors, cut the number of foreign students and crack down on migrants more generally.

There was even the suggestion that companies should be forced to say how many foreigners work for them – a name and shame policy designed to flush out organisations that aren’t doing enough to recruit Brits. Where’s the shame in employing talented hard-working foreigners? In this case, too, the government backtracked saying this was just an idea, not something it was definitely going to do.

Meanwhile, one of the cabinet hardliners, Liam Fox, said EU nationals living in the UK are one of our “main cards” in the upcoming Brexit talks – though David Davis, another hardliner, took the opposite view. The idea that we might treat as negotiating pawns 3.2 million people who came here in good faith and play a valuable role in our society is morally repugnant.

Such rhetoric is divisive. It makes non-Brits living in the UK feel unwelcome. It denigrates their contribution to our country.

It is also crass. How are we going to attract foreign investment, which has helped modernise our economy, if we shame companies that employ foreigners? How are our world-class universities going to keep foreign talent if we hint that we will discriminate against non-Brits?

Flailing around over the economy

We shouldn’t feel sympathy for May’s problems over the economy either. In her final conference speech, the prime minister said super-loose monetary policy had some “bad side effects” and that “a change has got to come and we are going to deliver it.”

This comment raised questions about whether she was trying to undermine the Bank of England’s independence. Philip Hammond tried to repair the damage by saying he wanted the Bank’s governor to continue in his job. Wasn’t that off message given that Mark Carney is a foreigner?

The chancellor had another repair job to do when sterling plunged on Friday morning after sliding to a 31-year low against the dollar earlier in the week. He said the government had not decided to pursue a “hard Brexit”, despite May giving a strong impression that it had.

The government’s comments don’t just concern investors. They have provoked a hardline response from our European partners. In discussing the upcoming Brexit talks, French president Francois Hollande said: “There must be a threat, there must be a risk, there must be a price.” Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, said the EU must be “intransigent”.

A smart prime minister would realise that hard words will provoke hard reactions. But May seems so keen to pander to the hardline grass roots within the Conservative Party to prove her pro-Brexit credentials that she is ignoring the consequences.

Brexiters say that pro-Europeans are doing the country down. It is actually the Brexiters – and the former Remainers such as May whom they hold hostage – who are damaging us.

Hugo Dixon is co-founder of CommonGround as well as editor-in-chief of InFacts. You can sign up as a supporter here.

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2 Responses to “Theresa May’s Faustian pact with Brexiters damages UK”

  • These clowns appear determined to commit economic suicide and take us all over the cliff with them. They are still playing petty party politics with the future of the whole nation.